The big news on the sports concussion beat on Monday was that the National Football League, for the first time, acknowledged the link between its sport and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE – a degenerative disease linked to head trauma, found posthumously in the brains of countless athletes.
That admission came from Jeff Miller, the NFL's senior vice president for health and safety, who said during a roundtable discussion on concussions convened by the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Energy & Commerce that the “answer to that question is certainly yes” when asked if a link between football and CTE had been established.
The testimony was first reported by ESPN.com.
Miller cited the work of Dr. Ann McKee, a Boston University neuropathologist, in making the case. Said McKee to the roundtable:
"I unequivocally think there's a link between playing football and CTE," McKee said. "We've seen it in 90 out of 94 NFL players whose brains we've examined, we've found it in 45 out of 55 college players and six out of 26 high school players. No, I don't think this represents how common this disease is in the living population, but the fact that over five years I've been able to accumulate this number of cases in football players, it cannot be rare. In fact, I think we are going to be surprised at how common it is."
So what does this mean for the NHL?
From the aspect of the concussion lawsuit it’s facing, not much. The entire fight is about what the NHL knew, when it knew it and what it did to prevent brain injuries in players based on that knowledge. If this is, to paraphrase Jeffrey Lebowski, new [crap] that has come to light, it's not pertinent.
But now that the NFL is on record about a CTE link, it puts the pressure on Gary Bettman to, you know, acknowledge that link, doesn’t it?
Please recall Bettman just over a year ago, on CTE after the death of Steve Montador:
“From a medical science standpoint, there is no evidence yet that one necessarily leads to the other,” said Bettman to reporters on hand. “I know there are a lot of theories, but if you ask people who study it, they tell you there is no statistical correlation that can definitively make that conclusion.”
Now, this was widely seen a verbal gaffe from Bettman, and it was widely rebuked. Chris Nowinski, the co-founder and executive director of the Sports Legacy Institute, told Yahoo Sports:
“We have plenty of medical and scientific evidence that brain trauma leads to CTE. In fact the experts from the Department of Defense and the National Institute of Health are both on record saying they personally believe that CTE is caused by brain trauma.”
What we assumed Bettman was trying to say there was that the science was still out on specific aspects of CTE and contact sports – like, for example, if some athletes are more genetically predisposed to suffer CTE than others.
But if he truly believes, and it’s the NHL’s position, that there is “no evidence yet” that repeated hear trauma in contact sports leads to CTE, one assumes the NFL domino falling would impact that. Because if you’re behind the NFL’s concussion learning curve, something is seriously amiss.
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